Mid-American Conference Preview

Three teams look to be cream of the crop in the MAC


Feb. 17, 2008

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

 

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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The MAC race is never boring and the overall ability is always underrated. While the facilities and commitment to the sport have steadily improved over the years, the MAC still needs to step up a bit more to become a multi-bid league in June. (Then again, wouldn't it be interesting if some of those non-conference opponents they face on the road each February and March decided to finally make a return trip just once in a blue moon?). This year's race is wide-open again as this remains one of the last leagues that dangles the carrot of post-season host to whoever wins the regular season. You gotta like that kind of old school way of going about things.

 

Favorites: Central Michigan, Kent State, Eastern Michigan

Contenders: Northern Illinois, Miami

Darkhorse: Akron

 

Eastern Division:

 

Akron (23-24, 8-16)

 

The Good News:

Seniors will play a huge role this year with C Kurt Davidson (.325-10-44), 1B Doug McNulty (.356, 11SBs) and 3B Vince Chiera (.274) wielding the sticks. This year's team hopes to emulate the solid .968 fielding percentage from '07.

 

The Bad News:

The Zips haven't had a winning season since 1996, never winning more than 12 MAC games in any season since. There's lots of experience returning on the mound, but nobody has an ERA below 5.00.

 

The Intangible:

Return of the Farmer.

 

RHP Tom Farmer sat out the 2007 season as a medical redshirt. He went just 2-10, 7.92 in 2006, but is long on potential since he was drafted in the 20th round by Minnesota, yet chose to return to the Zips.

 

Schedule Note:

The Zips will be busy early on. They'll play four games in three days at Lamar and then two days later begin eight games in seven days down in Bradenton, Fla., from March 11th through 17th.

 

Bowling Green (22-32, 7-20)

 

The Good News:

Bowling Green will gladly take another good 9-5 start as it did in '07. Top hitters SS Derek Spencer (.405) and 1B Brandon McFarland (.348) hope to stay healthy. Pitchers Nick Cantrell (4-8, 5.01) and Marty Baird (5-5, 6.80) will be good mound anchors.

 

The Bad News:

The ERAs of the returnees isn't a proud point. Losing both Friday ace Tyler Johnson (4CGs) and ace reliever Adam Gumpf is a worry. Coach Danny Schmitz needs to turn the losing ways of the last two seasons around.

 

The Intangible:

The Longwood connection.

 

The Falcons will get an infusion of two transfers from Longwood University, 3B/P Frank Berry and LHP Kevin Light, which should contribute heavily.

 

Schedule Note:

Bowling Green goes to Bowling Green. The Falcons open the season with three games at Western Kentucky, marking winnable games. But three of the last four MAC weekends are on the road.

 

Buffalo (16-35, 11-16)

 

The Good News:

All things considered, a third place finish in the East isn't too shabby for this program. It all starts with top-hitting OFs Mike Folli (.346, 12SBs) and Bobby Pizzuto (.314, 12SBs). Mark Tourangeau (3-4, 3.68) and Steve Geltz (5svs) are good blocks to build on.

 

The Bad News:

Though it's tough to avoid a poor start because of weather, the Bulls can't repeat last year's 2-21 start. This was a weak hitting team, with a .261 average and just five (yes, 5) home runs in '07.

 

The Intangible:

A good summer in Buffalo.

 

RHPs Zach Anderson and Dan Francis both had all-star summers in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League last summer and hope to transfer that to the '08 season.

 

Schedule Note:

For some reason, MAC officials decided to have Buffalo host two weekends in March and then have them travel for two weekends in May. Shouldn't that be the other way around, considering those Lake Erie winters?

 

Kent State (33-26, 19-8)

 

The Good News:

Lots of plusses. RHP Chris Carpenter is back after being an 18th-round draftee of the Yankees. Also, Kyle Smith (4-2, 3.84) and Brad Stillings (BA's top prospect in the Great Lakes League) will contribute big as well. The best outfield in the MAC will feature Chris Tremblay (.321, Alaska League All-Star) and Frosh All-American Anthony Gallas (.332-10-46).

 

The Bad News:

Losing the Davis boys - Andrew (.328-7-54) and Ryan (6-3, 8svs) - will be hard to replace. Two other weekend starters also hit the bricks in Evan Smith and John Pacella.

 

The Intangible:

Power trippers.

 

Don't forget about the return of two of the best sluggers in the MAC, Greg Rohan (.273-12-44) and Brad Winter (.282-7-44), who will improve those numbers... and sneer at opposing pitchers.

 

Schedule Note:

With games against St. John's, North Carolina and Winthrop, plus weekenders at Washington State and Louisville, this team should build up a hell of a callous. Man alive! But rest assure, these guys aren't scared to face anyone.

 

Miami University (32-24, 16-9)

 

The Good News:

The RedHawks are always in the MAC mix, winning 30+ games every year since 1997. A trio of .300+ hitters come back in SS Jordan Petraitis (.318-4-33, No. 3 prospect Great Lakes League), DH Chris Nadeau (.308) and C/1B Eric Darlage (.302-5-36).

 

The Bad News:

After having pro prospects like Conor Graham and John Ely in their stable last year, Miami should've done more in 2007. Just about every important pitcher on the staff is gone, as are the top two hitters. A tough early schedule may break some early confidence.

 

The Intangible:

Will they rebound?

 

Nobody has a tougher start in the country as the RedHawks will open with Arizona State, Oregon State and Vanderbilt as the sacrificial lamb of the DeMarini Invitational in Tempe, Arizona.

 

Schedule Note:

Other than that impossible opening weekend, the Hawks also have to travel to West Division favorites Eastern and Central Michigan. The final weekend of the season has rival Kent State coming to McKie Field.

 

Ohio (23-31, 8-19)

 

The Good News:

Things look pretty good for Ohio as six starters and all three weekend starting pitchers are back from '07, led by Frosh All-American OF Marc Krauss (.369-8-42), senior Matt Stiffler (.359), 1B Brandon Beal (.323) and pitchers Chris Rigo (2-4, 4.18, 2svs) and Matt Schlarb (7-3, 5.07).

 

The Bad News:

Ohio has a proud tradition (81 winning seasons), but haven't finished above .500 since 2003. The fundamentals must improve, no more .952 fielding, 68 wild pitches, 13 balks and allowing 84 stolen bases.

 

The Intangible:

At least it will have a better opening scene.

 

This year, the Bobcats won't be sentenced to a three game bloodletting at Vanderbilt to start the season (where they were outscored 26-3). So a good start at Charleston Southern may help OU's confidence.

 

Schedule Note:

Well, if the Charleston Southern trip doesn't do the trick, then the four home games against non-Division I teams like Otterbein and Rio Grande will.

 

Western Division:

 

Ball State (20-34, 8-19)

 

The Good News:

Two .300+ hitters return in seniors Matt Stoeklen (.311-8-39) and Wayne Bond (.309, 15SBs), who bash and dash well. Senior reliever Kyle Heyne (5-3, 2.31, 10svs) is one of the best relievers in the MAC, but may be asked to do more.

 

The Bad News:

After a 2005 West Division title and 2006 trip to the NCAAs, last year's 20-win season is a momentum killer. The opponents .310 average did the most damage. Ace Brenden Stines (2-8, 4.20) returns, but must get better support.

 

The Intangible:

Don't forget who you beat.

 

The Cards had a 10-5 stretch during March where they beat NCAA-bound Austin Peay and ACC member Wake Forest each two times.

 

Schedule Note:

BSU will have Carolina on their minds by spending nine days in South Carolina playing teams like Coastal Carolina and Michigan.

 

Central Michigan (35-21, 21-6)

 

The Good News:

The Chips led the MAC in hitting (at .308) and was second in pitching (at 3.71). Dan Taylor (7-2, 3.49) and OF Tyler Stovall (.391-6-59, 20SBs) are All-American candidates. OF Cody Allen (.302, 26SBs) is a pressure cooker. Middle reliever Chris Kupilla (4-3, 4.60, 38th round pick of Seattle) and closer Bryce Morrow (2-3, 4.34, 5svs) will be the keys to whether this is a 30 or 40-win season.

 

The Bad News:

The Chips collapsed at the end of '07, losing the West Division with a series loss at Ball State and then going belly-up in two straight in the MAC tourney. Some players will need to step up to replace two of three weekend starters and home run source Ben Humphrey.

 

The Intangible:

The part-time Frosh All-American.

 

Muscle-bound spark plug Billy Anderson would've led the MAC in hitting (at .430) if he would've had more than 121 at-bats last season. He'll be counted on all season long this time around, augmenting a powerful CMU lineup.

 

Schedule Note:

The Chippewas will host Western and Eastern in back-to-back weekends to close the season and, more than likely, to decide the Western Division.

 

Eastern Michigan (32-24, 21-4)

 

The Good News:

The Eagles dominated the MAC in the regular season and also beat Tennessee, Arizona and Michigan along the way. EMU has a pair of impressive hurlers in Matt Shoemaker (1-2, 3.97, 12svs, No. 4 prospect Great Lakes League) and Sean Hoffman (7-2, 3.97). Dynamic OF Jeff Davis (.320) is a candidate on the Wallace Award Watch list.

 

The Bad News:

Can the Eagles get over their curse to Kent State (who beat them twice in the MAC tourney)? The schedule is unusually brutal again. The two most-used arms (George Biddle and Jeff Fischer) and the two best power sources (Derek Lehrman and Jeff Hehr) have moved on.

 

The Intangible:

Again, coaches love senior leaders.

 

New head man Jake Boss will have a lot to work with, like the top three returning batters - Davis (.321), 1B Steve Bradshaw (.357) and OF Michael Boyd (.330) - as seniors.

 

Schedule Note:

Don't look for a glitzy won-loss mark. EMU will open on the road at New Mexico, Florida, FAU, Tennessee and Kentucky, in that order. Gah!

 

Northern Illinois (34-24, 16-11)

 

The Good News:

Marked improvement on the mound as NIU led the MAC in strikeouts (398) and third-lowest in walks issued (189). Trevor Feeney (6-7, 4.30) and Matt Jernstad (4-2, 4.39) lead another good staff. 3B Jordin Hood (.294, 11SBs) was a Frosh All-American.

 

The Bad News:

NIU still hasn't come close to contending for a Division title since coming into the MAC in 2000. MAC career hits leader Scott Simon and Phillies draftee Matt German (13svs) were leaned upon heavily last season.

 

The Intangible:

Like a broken record(s).

 

2007 was a watershed season as NIU tied the school mark with 34 wins, had their best finish in MAC tourney play (third), posted the best ERA since 1977 (4.65) and tied a school mark with a fielding percentage of .962.

 

Schedule Note:

What is this, the University of Texas at Dekalb? The Huskies hit the road for games at Texas Tech, Texas State, UTSA and Dallas Baptist for 13 of their first 17 games.

 

Toledo (26-28, 14-13)

 

The Good News:

2007 was the first time in the new millennium that the Rockets had a winning MAC record. Hopes will be built around SS Scott Boley (.306-7-39), 3B Jake Oester (.323) and OFs Drew Hoisington (.295-12-50, MAC HR leader) and Josh Johnson (.345).

 

The Bad News:

Still no winning seasons overall in that same time frame. There are some arms back, including RHP Mike Inselmann (4-5, 5.38), but he's the only ERA under 6.00. Losing bullpen rock Joe Roberts (6svs) will be a blow to the staff.

 

The Intangible:

No need to stretch the recruiting budget.

 

Talk about favorite sons... of the 35 players on the Toledo roster, 30 of them are Ohio natives. Three are from Indiana and two are from Michigan.

 

Schedule Note:

The Rockets have a pretty good mix in the pre-conference with a good bit of possible Ws diced in with challenging games against Coastal Carolina and Missouri.

 

Western Michigan (16-33, 8-16)

 

The Good News:

A remarkable amount of returnees, including nearly the entire offense and defense, featuring SS Zach Gentile (.319) and C Nathan Marquardt (.300, just one error). Two of the weekend starters also suit back up in righties Ethan Hollingsworth (4-4, 2.55) and Billy Morrison (3-6, 4.01).

 

The Bad News:

This team waved a white flag down the stretch, losing 14 of its last 15 games. Will all those returnees be motivated to improve their poor finish? Need to apply more pressure, as the Broncos only stole 17 bases and took just 164 walks.

 

The Intangible:

The "Jewel" gets a new shine.

 

WMU's Hyames Field, otherwise known as "The Jewel of the Midwest" is undergoing a major renovation project, including stadium seats, a new press box, a new entrance-way and installation of stadium lights.

 

Schedule Note:

The MAC slate does the Broncs no favors as they'll play rivals Eastern and Central on the road, along with eight of their last 12 regular season games.

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